DOWNHILL Is An Unfunny Waste Of Great Comedy Talent

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DOWNHILL opens 2/14/2020, and the best part will be the trailers  before it starts.

Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are two living legends in comedy. Both are Saturday Night Live alumni who revel in the absurd. Ferrell graduated to the big screen with Old School and never looked back. Elf, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers, The Lego Movie 1 & 2, Get Hard, and my personal favorite of his impressive resume, Stranger Than Fiction -- It seemed like the funny man would never bomb. The same holds true for Louis-Dreyfus,, the only woman in history to have won Emmy Awards for three different comedy series. Seinfeld put her on the map, and The New Adventures of Old Christine and Veep proved that she belonged to be considered among the heavyweights like Carol Burnett and Betty White. 

Why then is Downhill, the first new film from Searchlight after being acquired by Disney from Fox, so completely unfunny? It's described as a black comedy, but there isn't much to chuckle about, and I have to wonder if directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash understand the concept of black comedy? The duo won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the George Clooney starring vehicle The Descendants" (then as a trio with Alexander Payne,) so you would assume they would have found some way to make this uncomfortable plot more humorous. It's adapted from the Swedish film Force Majeure, which has a fresh rating of 95% on RottenTomatoes.com. The American version musters only a 45% fresh rating currently, and that is very generous in my opinion. 

The plot had potential. An American family goes to the French Alps on vacation and right from the start things start rolling...downhill. Pete Staunton (Will Ferrell) is constantly on his cell phone, leaving wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to wrangle their two boys Finn (Julian Grey) and Emerson (Ammon Jacob Ford). They quickly discover that they booked their suite at a hotel with no other children present. In fact, the hotel concierge Charlotte (Miranda Otto) is openly hedonistic and very likely a swinger. After a tiring first morning on the slopes, the Stauntons are sitting at a table on a large balcony at the hotel when a "controlled" avalanche of snow engulfs the patio. Everyone is shaken but unharmed, except for Pete, who dashed away at the last second for the safety of the hotel. He left this wife and kids, but he snatched his cell phone as he raced inside. Pretty douchey of ya, Pete! 

That scene touches off what becomes a tedious course on how to handle family drama as poorly as possible. Pete tries to blow it all off, pushing the family to soldier on through their vacation. Bobbie, righteously upset about Pete's "Men and cell phones first!" safety plan, tries to reason with him. When that tactic goes nowhere, she puts the kids in the middle of it. Pretty douchey of ya, Bobbie! Eventually, Bobbie even goes so far as to kiss a hunky ski instructor, but doesn't take it as far as Charlotte strongly hinted that she should. Technically that's not adultery, but it's not something either party in a committed and monogamous marriage should be doing. While I’m certainly not advocating for adultery, if you are trying to do dark comedy, you should be prepared to get a little extreme sometimes. There were plenty of opportunities throughout this film where Faxon and Rash could have taken an unexpected turn, ultimately coming up with a surprising and much more satisfying conclusion, and they missed every single one. This family feud, sometimes openly hostile, sometimes annoyingly passive aggressive, goes on until the merciful end of the film, where it seems evident that neither Pete nor Bobbie will ever be reconciled, the kids are probably scarred for life from this whole affair and none of the characters seemed to have learned a damn thing about themselves or each other. 

What a colossal waste of two naturally funny talents and American audience's time. I can't help but wonder what Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus really feel about this film. Oh, I'm sure they'll do their promotional tour on late night talk shows, smiling and setting up clips out of context. But I can't believe that either of them could have watched the final cut of this fiasco and came away proud. I neither expected nor wanted Ferrell doing his signature zaniness here. I was hoping for a more subdued performance as he delivered in the Stranger Than Fiction, a gem of a movie that seems to fly under the radar of many Ferrell fans. Why would you even cast Will Ferrell if you didn’t want him to be even the slightest bit humorous at all? And the same goes for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who seldom plays characters as over-the-top as Ferrell, but she’s always had impeccable comedic timing and her characters usually have a few funny quirks to play on.  I found Downhill to be nearly devoid of laughs as it presented the Stauntons as a typical American family with a sadly typical failing marriage, gaining speed and momentum to it's inevitable demise like the obviously metaphoric avalanche in the film.

That's not comedy, that's art imitating real life, and real life is plenty depressing as it is. People don't typically go to the movies to be reminded how miserable life can be (other than perhaps Schindler’s List); they go to escape it for a few hours. If you are considering taking your special someone to the movies for Valentine's Day, you might want to reconsider. Opening on February 14, 2020, along with Downhill are Sonic the Hedgehog, based on a decades old video game franchise, and Fantasy Island, a pathetic attempt to ring a few bucks from nostalgic fans of the old Ricardo Montalban television show. For my St. Louis readers, might I suggest finding tickets for a stage show like Riverdance at the Fox Theatre or Dancing with the Stars at the Stifel Theatre instead? Or stay home and play a board game, or binge something you'll both enjoy on Netflix? It's going to be an awfully cold weekend in this region as it is, so why make things any colder by subjecting your loved one or yourself to this frostbitten attempt at dark comedy?

Grade: 
0 / 5.0